Qatar: A refuge for persecuted Western Muslims

(MENAFN- The Peninsula)

By Lauren Booth

Landing at Hamad International airport mid evening the modest clothes I’m in are for once a bonus rather than a test. Globally wearing hijab like the turban the “thobe” and (hipsters aside) the beard have become a stigma for travellers. Wearing these leads to the extra pat down Muslim women in particular must put up with. This is because we have secret stores which we go to especially to buy scarves made of impenetrable kryptonite. These material head coverings may look like cotton but don’t be deceived. Despite body scanners being the most advanced passenger screening technology available they are unable to penetrate the hijab.

In the customs hall at Doha airport Arab and African women clutch toddlers floppy with sleep. Indian workers browse the floor with their eyes anxious about their new future on building sites or returning to long hours and possibly uneven pay.

Amongst the crush of humanity I clutch the passports of my daughter and I which are as British as our accents. I think about what this means in the context of visiting the Gulf. We like tea with milk. This means having to politely pretend we like the yellow liquid called coffee served in the Qatari households of much loved friends.

My driving? English too. I feel internally conflicted every time my hand hovers over the centre of the steering wheel. Why do you have to press so hard to make a sound in this day and age? It just adds to the agony of needing to honk other people in order to avoid a near-miss collision at the roundabout on Tabouk Street.

If home is where your heart is then this nub of land at the edge of Arabia has become the ‘home’ of my family’s heart. This desert pearl where divers and bedouins share names and a shore line allows us to be Muslim in peace.

At customs I greet the young man holding my passport checking my fingerprints with ‘Assalamu Alaykum’. The normally white-thobed man this year dressed in smart uniform smiles- the light of a thousand and more years of Islamic background in his expression and says ‘And peace be unto you. Welcome. May Allah bless you and your daughter.’ We are back.

What we leave behind in the UK is a far from a pleasant atmosphere.

The Cameron government is under fire for amongst many other things failing the growing numbers suffering from serious mental health issues. A leaked report by a government task force has revealed that the number of people killing themselves is soaring. In an average year 4477 people kill themselves. That is just under five thousand mostly young adults preferring the prospect of personal annihilation to life in English cities. This figure will climb too as the injustice of the government’s lopsided ‘austerity’ policies removes lower income families from their homes pushing tens of thousands more parents into poverty.

Alongside this comes the announcement by senior government sources that new rules are to be put into place which will criminalise the boycott of Israeli goods and services by public bodies and student unions in the UK. A lot of lobbying went into pressurising businesses like Veolia (who were involved in the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR)) to divest from the Occupation which Veolia at last did in September 2015. Community led action leading to local change will no longer be possible in the UK and could lead to a criminal conviction in the future. No wonder Sisi was given the red carpet by the Cameron government on his visit.

Where will this kind of Israel-favourable Westminster activity lead?

A hint can be seen in an incident this week. Rahmaan Mohammadi went to school wearing a schoolboy badge which read “Free Palestine.” If ever there were doubts about the increasing two tiered level of justice and policing arising in the UK between Muslims and all other communities take note this is it. Who hasn’t worn a badge to school showing off a politically fashionable cause? However in the current climate teachers at Challney High School for Boys in Luton referred Rahmaan to police under Prevent the government anti-radicalisation programme.

Of course it wasn’t only the wearing of a badge which brought police to the boy’s house and led to several hours of questioning of his parents. That would be ridiculous or Egyptian. The 14 year old was also (call the army) in possession of a leaflet advocating Palestinian rights by the pressure group Friends of Al Aqsa. The 14 year old had also asked for permission to fundraise for children affected by the Israeli occupation.

Now I know what you’re thinking as you read this- ‘But it’s so lovely to visit England’. I understand this having just spent time in Haworth walking the cobble-streeted home of the famous Bronte sisters. Haworth is a place where a stream train runs several times a day. It is surrounded by the heather and gorse covered moors a misty landscape with a back cloth of wild winter clouds- perfect. It is just the sort of romanticised view of England that people hold in their hearts- along with Harrods of course.

The reality is that it is uncomfortable and increasingly delegitimised for Muslims to go about our faith-led duty of fundraising for other Muslims whilst we live in the UK. A place where as of this week wearing a badge showing support for Palestinian rights gets children investigated as does pursuing ethical policies against Israel in local government or on campus.

As a side note it is relevant to mention here that the formal announcement of policy to criminalise Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) (of Israel only) will be made by Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock when he visits Israel this week.

Far removed from the right wing media branding of Doha Qatar as a blend of tradition and high-tech and ‘Club Med for Terrorists’ it is actually currently a safe haven for European Muslims fleeing emotional and psychological persecution in the West.

Doha is the Disneyland of the Muslim world. It may not be all it seems on the outside. Still I wonder if one day Muslims from London or Paris may be forced to seek asylum here.

The writer is a journalist broadcaster and media consultant: Twitter:LaurenBoothUK

The Peninsula

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